Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 10, 2012

GT Community Foundation has positive impact on region

TRAVERSE CITY — By Carol South

Special to the Record-Eagle

The Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation's mission is to make a difference and create legacies that matter.

Since its founding 20 years ago, the foundation stewarded more than $70 million. Organization and individuals entrusted the foundation with their money as a way to make an impact in the region.

Over that time, contributions have resulted in $37 million in community grants given to local nonprofit organizations. Funds supported programs, services and capital projects in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties.

The foundation's assets currently stand at $47 million.

"We're the endowment builder, building the resources of our community to be here forever," said Phil Ellis, executive director of the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation. "For us, we recognize in our 20th year it's not about us but how we can be a resource for donors."

Twenty years is a relatively short amount of time for a community foundation; a similar foundation in Grand Rapids just celebrated 90 years. In the context of successful and enduring community foundations — there are more than 700 nationally and internationally — the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation's board is planning for the next five, 20, 50 years.

A long-term perspective both reflects and honors the legacies created by donor funds.

Some large impact projects over the years include the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA capital campaign, Thirlby Field and the National Writer's Series. The power of many is leveraged thanks to the Community Foundation.

"(T)he ACE Fund started with just one donor and there have been 750 donors since then," said Ellis of a fund that supports Traverse City Area Public Schools. "We can all be philanthropists."

The board awarded more than $410,000 in December, the latest grant cycle, including $180,000 given as part of its competitive fall grant cycle. Recent awards boost the total for 2012 to $1.7 million granted.

A new Bethany Christian Services program received a competitive grant of $4,000 from the Campbell Endowment for a new Safe Families for Children program, a program that also received a regional impact grant of $5,000 from the foundation's Youth Advisory Council.

The grant allows Bethany to launch an initiative that provides support and a temporary home for children whose families are experiencing a temporary crisis.

"It's really a blessing," said Craig Bultsma, executive branch director of Bethany Christian Services. "It enables us to reach out into the community and help families in need."

The Foundation's roots are linked with Rotary Charities, whose board of directors provided support and leadership in 1992 to establish the foundation.

A W.K. Kellogg Foundation matching grant helped boost the nascent fund. The resulting $4 million raised sparked a match of $2 million from Kellogg for a Youth Endowment.

"They created us to become a resource that others could come to," Ellis said.

The foundation hosts approximately 280 funds that support arts and culture, the environment, youth and education. Community enrichment funds are geared to help with health and human services, seniors, food programs and housing. Approximately 15 to 20 new funds are created each year.

The Foundation distributes about $2 million each year and one of the region's largest grantmakers. More than half the money disbursed is earmarked for community enrichment.

One component is that members of a Youth Advisory Council, teens in high school, get to decide how to distribute $67,500 from the Youth Endowment. The 60 members of this year's council are high school students from the foundation's five-county area. Young grantmakers learn the basics of philanthropy and grantmaking, review applications and select programs to recommend for funding.

"It's a unique way to serve my community," said Lauren Murray, a senior at Traverse City Central High School. "You can think about the impact of these grants and you know exactly what it's going to do."

For more information on Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, call 935-4066 or see

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